Author’s Note: I wrote this article while employed as the adjustment counselor for the Alliance for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a program of Senior Services in Memphis, Tennessee. I left that position in November 2001. I am now working as a personal development coach in private practice in Memphis, Tennessee.
Warning Signs of Depression and Anxiety
Mood and anxiety disorders affect a great many people in the United States each year. These take many forms, and arise from many different causes. Since a significant number of blind and visually impaired people experience depression and anxiety, it is important to know what the warning signs are and what to do about it if you recognize these symptoms in yourself or someone you love.
It is normal to feel sad, angry, lonely, nervous, or anxious at times. These feelings are also part of the normal grieving process following a major life loss, such as that of your vision. Most people are able to take a time to experience these feelings, and then get up and get on with their lives. You may even learn from and grow stronger from facing this pain.
Feelings of depression or anxiety become problematic, however, when they result in a marked decrease in social, occupational, or other important area of functioning, are highly distressing to the person, or persist longer than would normally be expected for the grieving process.
Depression can take a variety of forms, and is also associated with other health conditions. Depression can result from taking medications or drugs of abuse. It is often associated with general medical conditions, such as diabetes mellitus or vitamin deficiency. Many depressive symptoms are features of other mental disorders, such as schizophrenia or dementia. Depressive disorders can be relatively brief or long-lasting, and may be relatively mild with only a few symptoms or severe and exhibit many symptoms.
A careful diagnostic interview by a qualified mental health professional is required to determine the nature and probable cause of depressive symptoms, and to find the correct treatment modality. There are effective treatments for most forms of depression, including cognitive therapy, exercise, relaxation, and drugs.
Warning signs of depression that may indicate you should seek professional help include:
- Feeling sad or down in the dumps most of the day, nearly every day,
- Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all activities, almost all day, nearly every day,
- Loss of appetite or overeating, especially with weight loss or gain without dieting,
- Difficulty falling asleep, waking early and not getting back to sleep, or sleeping too much,
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day,
- Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt,
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, and
- Recurrent thoughts about death or suicide, especially with suicide plans or attempts.
Anxiety disorders can occur with or without panic attacks. Anxiety may be generalized, where the person feels anxious without a specific known cause. It can take the form of a phobia, where it is experienced only in the presence of certain triggers (such as snakes or heights). It can be triggered by social-evaluative situations, as in social anxiety. In obsessive-compulsive disorder, a person tries to control feelings of anxiety by engaging in ritual, repetitive behaviors, or ruminates excessively on certain thoughts. In agoraphobia, a person avoids feared situations. Anxiety, like depression, can be caused by various medical conditions, and by many medications and drugs of abuse.
Warning signs of anxiety may be physical, psychological, or behavioral. Again, a diagnostic interview by a qualified mental health professional is needed to determine the type of anxiety a person presents with, and to select effective treatments. Treatments for anxiety include relaxation, in vivo exposure, desensitization, and cognitive therapy. Below are warning signs of two common forms of anxiety. You may need professional help if you experience any of these symptoms.
Panic Attack: Extreme fear or discomfort, with four or more of these symptoms arising abruptly and reaching a peak within 10 minutes.
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate,
- Trembling or shakiness,
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering,
- Feelings of choking,
- Chest pain or discomfort,
- Nausea or abdominal distress,
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, or light-headed,
- Feeling like everything is unreal, or detached from yourself,
- Fear of losing control or going crazy,
- Fear of dying,
- Numbness or tingling, and
- Chills or hot flashes.
Agoraphobia: The pervasive avoidance of a variety of situations.
- Anxiety about being in places or situations in which escape may be impossible or embarrassing, or help may not be available, such as crowds, outdoors, or empty places.
- Situations are avoided (e.g., travel is restricted), or endured with marked distress, or with anxiety about having a panic attack
If you or someone you love exhibit several of these symptoms, or if any of these symptoms has lasted longer than a few weeks, or if any symptoms cause marked distress or impairment in functioning, consult a qualified mental health professional immediately. There are effective treatments available for mood and anxiety disorders.
American Psychiatric Association. (2001). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders-DSM-IV-TR (4th ed., text revision). Washington, DC: Author.